MamaBake: When mother's groups get cooking

Share the load (from left): Ellie McNamara, Katy Holder and Laura Ferguson contribute to, and benefit from, the MamaBake ...
Share the load (from left): Ellie McNamara, Katy Holder and Laura Ferguson contribute to, and benefit from, the MamaBake community.  Photo: Steven Siewert

The idea was simple: gather a few mothers from around town, cook big batches of food and divide the results between each of their families. In a couple of hours and without much effort, dinner would be done for days.

"I phoned a couple of friends and said, 'Why don't we get together ... and see how it works?"' a north coast mother-of-two, Michelle Shearer, says.

MamaBake's slow-cooked Moroccan vegetable couscous.
MamaBake's slow-cooked Moroccan vegetable couscous. Photo: Supplied

It worked very well, and word began to spread after Shearer's first get-together in Lennox Head, 2½ years ago. Within weeks, women from all over the area were asking to join her MamaBake group.

"It just started growing at an atomic rate to a point where we had to say stop," she says.

Shearer started a Facebook group to wrangle the growing number of members and, not long after, a website at mamabake.com.

We're doing this to make everyone's lives a bit easier.

Now, more than 100 groups have sprouted throughout Australia and overseas, including in the US, England, Belgium, Mozambique and Canada. More than 7000 people have also joined the Facebook page.

"[The aim is to] lighten the load," Shearer says. "It's not just coffee mornings and chats; that's just small talk.

"It's working shoulder-to-shoulder doing stuff you do anyway. You get support, your kids are exposed to different foods and it's community in action."

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The concept came to Shearer after a friend baked a huge lasagne for her to take home one day.

"It was such a simple thing but it made a real difference to that evening," she says. "I went for a surf and [when I came back] dinner was ready. I didn't have to think about it."

Shearer encourages a grassroots approach to her movement. Membership is free and each group is started by women on the ground within local neighbourhoods, with no more than six attending each three-hour to four-hour session. More can be accommodated if they prepare meals beforehand.

Shearer suggests members sort out issues such as food allergies and intolerances early. She also discourages people from being competitive or keeping a strict tally of money and portion sizes. "It overcomplicates it," she says.

Otherwise, there's only one guideline: the hostess should not clean up before or after a cooking session.

Ellie McNamara is part of a group based in Tempe, in Sydney's inner west. She says joining the movement six months ago has helped her meet dozens of people from her area and juggle the demands of part-time work and raising two small boys.

In addition to the usual stews and casseroles, her group cooks freezer-friendly meals such as pies, curries, pastitsio, frittatas, chilli con carne and vegetable triangles, as well as muffins and other treats.

"On the days I work ... it's fantastic to pull something out of the freezer," she says. "There's a real understanding that we're doing this to make everyone's lives a bit easier ... it's almost taking the chore aspect of [making] healthy, nutritious meals and turning it into a social event."

Shearer has released an e-book of big-batch recipes on her website and plans to expand her other BlokeBake and SistaBake networks, aimed at men and young professional women. And while her organisations rely heavily on modern technology such as social media, Shearer points out that the practice is hardly radical.

"My grandmother used to swap hotpots and breads," she says.

"I'm taking the concept and modernising it slightly ... it just makes perfect sense."​